Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Get Your Captain Marvel Hottakes

From my FB chat:

Woman in Wyoming: I can’t join the Cpt Marvel reviews since I haven’t seen it yet
Me: Oh you joining the boycott?
Man in Copenhagen: Hey sometimes it’s hard to get out every month for the new Marvel movie

Which is how approaching Captain Marvel, or any other superhero / culture war movie du jour feels. So rather than give you very serious thoughtful analysis, you get two hot takes.

1. What sort of genre media gives you:
  • Protagonist is an experimental pilot and puts way too much of their thoughts and history in the context and metaphors of being a pilot.
  • Trippy memory sequences where scenes from childhood are injected with alien absurdity, and snarky manipulators of the memory giving commentary.
  • Cute, innocuous seeming animals that are dangerous monsters.
  • Wise-guy humor from aliens in exotic makeup.
  • The avatar of an unknowable alien intelligence talking to the protagonist in the image of their parental figure.
  • Alien empires conflicting in ambiguous politics but our heroes mostly think "fuck your bullshit" about the politics and prevent massacres.
  • Protagonist has the seed of immense power within them, that they only somewhat control and is growing.
  • Buddy cop comedy.
I'm saying it's basically Farscape. They might as well say Carol Danvers was shot through a wormhole as the opening credits highlight. It just has the same very surreal style as many Farscape episodes (how many episodes does Chricton wake up brainwashed thinking he is a member of an alien species?)

This is not a criticism. Farscape is great, and more of it is fun. But there's value in dropping the lens of "is this a typical Marvel movie" and wondering "what is this more like a typical example of?"

2. Gender.

Let's be honest. For all the genderwar cultural fire there has been over this movie... the main character could have been Carl Danvers, played by a dude, and like two entire lines in the movie wouldn't work. Other than those two lines (a flashback to a douchebro saying "it's called a cockpit for one reason (which would be dismissed as drunken rambling) and her best friend saying "we had to be experimental pilots because they wouldn't let women fly in combat" (which wtf that's not remotely true, experimental piloting is very risky and also male dominated -why have your sexism be completely fake)) nothing about the movie wouldn't make sense.

Sure, there's a (very undeveloped) theme of "you have to trust your emotions even when other people are saying to be logical" and "you have to believe in yourself even when other people belittle you" that will trigger anyone with highly sensitive political antennae... but honestly if you had that said about a male superhero, in a movie coming out of the 90's, no one would blink an eye. Those comments are not at all gendered unless you are expecting them to be.

And if your "breakthrough female character" can be replaced with no changes with a male, well a) that's actually good in terms of "acting egalitarianism", but b) you are not exactly rocking the world with the revolutionary political message of your movie.

Don't let cultural memes pull you into "controversies" when the substance of the fight is something as anodyne and milquetoast as this. It's an extremely gender neutral flashbang movie (that resembles most, a 90's scifi channel show.)

Don't fight over things not worth it just because "have you heard what they're saying on RottenTomatoes it's so upsetting." Watch the object in question yourself.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Meaningless: the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Image result for imaginarium parnassus

I finally saw this cult classic of Terry Gilliam and Heath Ledger's final half-performance. Like all my reviews, spoilers abound, so placing this below the cut.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Infinity Thoughts

So Avengers Infinity War happened. I enjoyed the experience of seeing it. But there's nothing interesting to say about it because while it has workmanlike quality, it's just too incoherent.

Image result for thanos

I'll at least explain why below the spoiler cut.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Pacific Rim Thread

In honor of Pacific Rim 2 coming out, I've compiled the fantastic SMG responses on the SomethingAwful thread about Pacific Rim 1. It's a great discussion of fascism and nearby ideologies, Christian symbolism, mecha anime and kaiju cinema, film techniques, and fascism's root as an artistic movement.

It's also useful for interpreting Del Toro's other work, such as his Oscar Best Picture win for "Shape of Water." As SMG points out, all of GDT's movies are about "Nazis fighting monsters."

<<<Everything from this point on is by SuperMechaGodzilla and not by me.>>>

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Cloverfield and Bad Critiques of Capitalism

You may have heard that Netflix did a cute publicity stunt this week, by showing the very first advertisement for the big budget movie "the Cloverfield Paradox" with a Super Bowl commercial, and telling fans... that they could watch as soon as the game was over. Just surf over to Netflix and there it would be.

According to mainstream/hip/progressive media journalism, this was the oncoming of the capitalism apocalypse.


People who'd been following the progress of a third movie, sometimes referred to as God Particle or simply Untitled Cloverfield Project, might have sensed something was up when Paramount kept playing release-date musical chairs with it, moving it from February 2017 to October 2017, then February 2nd, 2018 ... then April 20th, 2018. And even these eagle-eyed watchers might have breezed past The Hollywood Reporter story in mid-January that hinted at Netflix being in talks to acquire the property, rumored to be in even rougher shape than previously imagined. At which point, the service thought: We can get this for a song. How do you save an unintentional suckfest? You turn it into a surprise event. That unveiling during the Super Bowl, part callback and part cryptic little sneak peek, is the sort of marketing coup that deserves an eternal slow-clap. 
That's one way of looking at it, of course. Another way is that they've simply found a cutting-edge way to pull the oldest trick in the promotional book. When Ms. Knowles pioneered the surprise-album drop, she relied on old-school codes of omerta and a new technological infrastructure that suddenly allowed you to go from studio to iTunes in a click. If it's not the new norm, it was certainly a bold new business model, one applicable to the right combination of name recognition and supply/demand economics. Thanks to Netflix, which pays lip service to the theatrical-release model even as it seems hellbent on cutting it off at the knees, the film industry may now have its equivalent infrastructure for such moves as well. As an experiment in attracting attention, cost-benefit economics and dodging a flop-film bullet, this is a huge win. 
For people who care about the quality of movies, including big blockbuster ones, and who will never get that 102 minutes back, however, this is not being Beyoncé-ed. It's the art of being P.T. Barnum-ed. At which point we can only look straight into the camera, fix the service with our best fretting Gugu Mbatha-Raw look, and solemnly intone:
"Whatever you're doing, Netflix: Stop."

If you read the whole article, you'll get a lot of moralizing about how scammy this approach is, but extremely little commentary on what makes the movie bad. There's just widespread assumption that you WOULD use this release method for a flop, and the author doesn't know anyone who liked it, so it must be an objectively bad movie that the executives knew would be bad.

For people who care about the quality of movies... maybe you could discuss the quality of this movie. Maybe criticize the dialogue, or pacing, or CGI, or anything?

So I actually watched it. And it's... fine. It's space-horror, with a big budget, and some good actors, and an attempt to use the genre to talk about how we deal with decisions we regret. It's not as brilliant as Event Horizon or Solaris or Alien, but it is well within the same genre that brought us LIFE or Aliens.

(It also features a black woman in the lead role, which I keep being told Hollywood never does outside movies with a political bent.)

This is not me saying "all movies are good and the movies critics call bad are actually camp classics." Paradox doesn't even aspire to that level of art. It's just a perfectly middlebrow horror scifi movie with a few JJ Abrams style touches. There's nothing in here that would make a studio executive say "Wow we've got one hell of a turd here, how do we unload it?"

Not to mention the weird paranoia that Netflix is trying to pull a fast one and trick people into watching a movie they should be warned from. For most of the audience, they're already subscribers and Netflix made no money from. It probably got a few new subscribes from this, but really a subscription service is the opposite of what payment system is trying to "sneak one past" consumers.


The closest we get to actual criticism is resentment at the teasing of Abrams world-building.
A large shadow appears and then there's that mystifying roar. A child is found, and saved, and only kinda sorta mentioned again. Then, at the very end of all this, right before the credits, a giant monster appears, some sort of variation on the original Cloverfield kaiju. See? It really is all connected. Cinema!
Which is reflected in other reviews, that they were really hoping this movie would answer some of the questions of what is going on in the "Cloververse." Just what is that big monster?

And, no. Just no. I have zero pity for anyone seeking that.

There is an argument for enjoying world-building as it's own thing. Balioc will be better able to defend that than I, but people feel they get value from reading it, and I won't say there wasn't value there.

But that is entirely different from demanding worldbuilding as the satisfaction from a work of art or author who has no intention of giving it. From the very beginning Cloverfield was about the mystery and the unknowable. Abrams has done this in most of his high profile works. And the second movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane, did not try to make anything clearer.

What the hell were you expecting from Cloverfield 3? The monster was Rey's father?


And if he did, you would be merely disappointed.

But with an obsessive focus on this reveal, his movies are criticized not for being bad, so much as his "cheap" tactics of being unwilling to give us the answers we need. Paradox was a flop in their mind because it didn't tell us what the monster was.

Abrams is withholding his jouissance, and this Netflix stunt is a way of tricking us into watching the movie without receiving the jouissance. "Whatever you're doing, Stop."


Which brings us back to this sort of popular-media Jacobin style critiques of capitalism. They take this woke posture, defending consumers from the evil tricks of Corporations, but are entirely empty of actual anti-capitalist theory. It's not about looking at the relationships between workers and production, or sharing the vast wealth our world has with the poorest, but just "you are unhappy and lets blame corporations for it. I don't understand art, so it must be the fault of profit-seekers who COULD give me what I wanted, if they weren't such jerks." It's banal and terrible and not Marxism.

Trashing a movie and fretting over a publicity stunt do not make you warriors for economic justice, RollingHuffStonePost.


Updated with SMG's take:
To do that, you first need to reverse-engineer the film to understand why The God Particle was made in the first place. Like why, at some point, did multiple people think this was a great idea for a movie?
If you actively ignore the extremely poor storytelling and exposition, God Particle actually has a very good concept for a horror movie:
The idea is that there are two parallel universes - the peace universe and the war universe. In the war universe, the space station gets sabotaged and crashes into the ocean, where the survivors are now in a fierce battle for survival.
Because of the experiment, the two universes cross over at random points - and the people from the peace universe naturally experience these crossovers as eruptions of nightmare imagery.
The most obvious example of this is when the airlock suddenly gets flooded with a ton of water - from the ocean. Air from the peace universe is being switched with water from the bad universe, and vice-versa. The Russian guy’s eye is going weird because half of his brain has been exchanged with the brain of his war-universe counterpart.
So basically there’s this entire parallel storyline where the offscreen people of the war universe figure out what’s going on, and start sending messages to the peace universe. The disembodied arm is actually connected to the Italian on the other side - so people in the war universe are basically watching their Italian crawl around on the floor while a disembodied arm floats around the room, flipping them off. The war people use this knowledge to send things like the compass through - they obviously discovered, from the worm incident, that the Russian’s stomach is the location of one of the portals. (As for how the war universe’s Russian guy ended up swallowing a ton of worms, I guess that’s left to the imagination.)
Basically everything not directly related to this narrative was added to promote the Cloverfield franchise. And it seems obvious that a lot of stuff was cut out to make it fit.
The charitable take is that the shitty ending is a probably-unintentional reference to Watchmen.
After the opening scene badly establishes the rise of nationalistic tensions and the threat of nuclear war breaking out, the utopian end-of history conclusion is accompanied by the promise/threat of a new, inhuman terrorist enemy against which we can unite. Hence the specific image of Clover - the 9/11 Kaiju par excellence. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Rashomon Analysis

I'm very slowly going through the canon of classic movies - one that pushed the bounds of the medium and have come to Kurosawa's Rashomon. This one I've heard of since junior high, and it's fabled treatment of "subjective truth" was so right up my alley I didn't bother watching it.

What I knew of it (and what you probably knew) is that it shows a tragic sex crime through multiple perspectives, revealing the difference in how it looked to different people involved. I assumed it would provide expiation for the assailant, showing how they thought what they did was fine.

Turns out I was pretty wrong about that. Spoilers below the cut.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Bright Christmas

For everyone off and killing time on this December 25th, go to Netflix and check out the new Will Smith vehicle "Bright."

This blog already has strong policy in favor of Will Smith, whose movies depict the reality of class degradation. But despite the inevitable "Bad Boys meets Suicide Squad" references bad critics make, it's a lot more like "the language and stylings of Training Day" and "in a setting 2000 years after Lord of the Rings."

Almost every respectable critic hates it, so I'm going to throw you to my favorite absurdist twitter who live blogged the movie.

I 100% agree with him.